WASHINGTON — U.S. Strategic Command is a global warfighting command whose mission areas include nuclear, global strike, space, cyber, missile defense and electronic warfare and more, and nuclear is the No. 1 priority, Stratcom Commander Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten said here today.
The general spoke during an event held at the Capitol Hill Club by the Mitchell Institute on space, nuclear and missile defense modernization.
Stratcom is the most global of all commands, Hyten told the audience. Its dominion stretches from under the sea to 2,300 miles above the earth, he said, and the 184,000 men and woman assigned and attached to the command are the best and brightest the nation has to offer.
"Peace is our profession," Hyten said, borrowing the Strategic Air Command's motto, adding that if an adversary crossed the line with the United States, "we will respond … with overwhelming power in a way that will ruin your day and make it so you will never attack United States of America. That is the ultimate strategic deterrent."
Hyten said his priorities for Stratcom are straightforward: provide strategic deterrence, if deterrence fails provide a decisive response, and do it with a resilient, trained and equipped force.
"Peace is our Profession' is the motto for all 184,000 people, and those priorities apply to every element of this command," the general said. "But nuclear is still the backbone, and it has to be our top priority."
Between 60 million and 80 million people were killed in World War II, or about 33,000 a day. But over the decade-long experience in Vietnam, the nation lost 58,000 troops -- just two days of casualties in WWII, Hyten said.
"That's what our nuclear weapons have done for the world," he added. "They don't eliminate conflict -- conflict will exist as long as humans exist. But what they have done is kept major power conflict off the world stage. They've kept that huge death and destruction from happening when you have major power conflicts that get out of control. It's kept world wars from happening. That's the primary reason that we have to have nuclear weapons."
Modernizing the Triad
Hyten said people often ask him how the nation can afford to modernize all three legs of the nuclear triad. "The question you have to ask yourself is, how can you not afford to modernize the triad?" the general said.
Consider the intercontinental ballistic missile or the new program for the ground-based strategic deterrent, he said.
"Can you imagine a nuclear capability without the ICBM in the missile fields? That creates a huge targeting problem for our adversaries, because 400 separate ICBMs have to be targeted with multiple weapons at a time in the middle of the United States to defeat that threat," Hyten explained.
And even if an adversary managed to do that, the triad's most survivable element is the submarine force that is on alert every minute of every day, he said. And the most responsive element is the bomber force, which can be employed and called back, he noted. "It gives the United States the flexibility to deploy capabilities and recall them if needed," the general explained.
"But if you look at all those capabilities together," he said, "if we put all the modernization programs on the table, it adds up to a whole lot of money."
News outlets discuss the expense all the time, he said. "Pick a number that goes from $600 million to over $1 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize the capability," he said. "How much is that really?
"Overall, it's a little over 6 percent of our defense budget ... to somehow make sure that the world knows the nation is ready and you cannot attack the United States. We have to do that," Hyten said.